Doing the costumes for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus “was a challenge any costume designer would love to have,” says Monique Prudhomme.
Working closely with director Terry Gilliam, whose credits include Brazil, Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, the Canadian designer was given free reign to design the outfits for the visually extravagant morality tale about an eccentric troupe of entertainers travelling through the streets of modern-day London on a horse-drawn moveable feast of a theater.
“All Terry told me at the start was that Dr. Parnassus is immortal, he has traveled all over the world like a gypsy in an ancient caravan and has no money,” she says. “Then it was open season as far as possibilities. He would entertain almost anything you brought to the plate, and then come up with his own suggestions. If there was a better idea the next day, he’d go with it.”
Prudhomme pursued what she calls a “hunting and gathering” procedure. She scoured the world for clothing items and fabrics that then were layered on the main characters. “I started by researching everything from contemporary fashion spreads, theatrical costumes, Medieval and Renaissance clothing, to styles from India and the Far East.” She would collect hats, coats, scarves and other pieces, molding these items like a sculpture on the characters. One costume for Dr. Parnassus, played by Christopher Plummer, was created using 14 layers.
The movie works on multiple storytelling levels shifting from grimy everyday reality, to vaudeville- style farce, to fabulous fantasies.
That required Prudhomme to come up with an enormous number of fitted costumes, beyond the layered outfits.
Imaginarium is also notable for being Heath Ledger’s last film. He died halfway through the shoot, freezing the production temporarily. To finish the picture three of his actor friends—Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell—agreed to substitute in the remaining scenes, playing Ledger’s mysterious Tony Liar character.
“Somehow, it all worked out better than anyone expected,” says Prudhomme, who was tasked with fitting each of the differently sized superstars in the same emblematic black outfits and white suits. “I had a great old-fashioned Italian tailor in Vancouver that I used.”
Because the film was a joint British-Canadian production, the search was on for a Canadian costume designer. “It came out of the blue. I had never met Terry Gilliam before that,” says Prudhomme, who comes from Quebec.
After studying fine arts at college in Monteral, she became interested in costumes and found a job as a trainee. “It was a very organic training,” she observes.
Prudhomme’s credits include Best in Show and Juno. For her work on the latter, she received a nomination for excellence in costume design for a contemporary film from the Costume Designers Guild in 2007. She recently received a Golden Satellite Award nomination from the International Press Academy for her work on Imaginarium. She recently finished as costume designer on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, based on an illustrated novel about a misbehaving teen. – Jack Egan
Previous Noms and Wins
2007: Nominated, Costume Designers Guild, Excellence in Costume Design for a Contemporary Film, Juno.